Tough task

The 21st general convention of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) has elected a new executive committee, dominated by journalists with Nepali Congress leanings, including its president Bishnu Nisthuri. Nevertheless, several office-bearers, including the new general secretary Mahendra Bista, have pro-left sympathies. Nobody considered close to the present establishment made it to the executive committee. This trend has continued since the restoration of democracy in 1990, particularly since the change of the Nepal Journalists Association (NJA) into FNJ, during which all FNJ presidents have been those with close Nepali Congress links. Another feature of FNJ elections has been that virtually all office-bearers, except, of course, those on regional quota, happen to be Kathmandu-based journalists. This is perhaps because more than half the total vote is held by the Kathmandu Valley.

But the main thing is that the office-bearers have been chosen through the democratic process. Over the years, things have certainly improved, particularly at the central level, where non-journalists obtaining the right to vote are not many. But this phenomenon still exists at the district level to a considerable extent. The new FNJ team should, therefore, take concrete steps to reduce, at least to a negligible extent, the possibility of non-journalists playing a role in the FNJ polls at any level. No doubt, FNJ has done some good work for the cause of the journalists, but there is still much room for improvement. It should, for example, implement its code of conduct for the journalists effectively. Journalists may also need certain privileges, but these are not to be misused. And, like any citizen, they are subject to the law.

Above all, FNJ is supposed to fight for the freedom of the press, which lies at the root of democracy. Without this, the news media cannot perform their basic duties. The new FNJ team has this tough task before it, as both democracy and press freedom are in grave danger now. The emergency has been lifted, but several restrictions which should have gone with it remain. FNJ should really be an umbrella organisation of all genuine journalists; its office-bearers should not, ideally, owe allegiance to any political party, yet they should be fierce protectors of the freedom of the press and multiparty democracy.